Category Archives: GLBT fiction

“Haskell Himself” by Gary Siegel— Who To Be?

Siegel, Gary. “Haskell Himself”, Acorn Publishing, 2020.

Who To Be?

Amos Lassen

Haskell Hodge is a sixteen-year-old former child actor and star of a popular cereal commercial. However, when he’s dumped at his aunt’s house in the suburbs of Los Angeles, he is faced with neighborhood bullies. He thinks he might be gay and that he might be the only gay person in the valley, even on the entire planet. He also thinks that if he does find a boyfriend, their relationship would have to be secret. Set in 1966 during the  sexual revolution is in full swing, gay people do not have the same  freedoms as straight people. As much as Haskell attempts to hide who he is, he’s still teased non-stop. Instead. Of giving into the hate, Haskell fights back and eventually finds a way to vent his frustration and angst by playing a bully in a screen test for a major film. This could make him a  Hollywood star but at a high price that he’s not sure he’s willing to pay.

I could not help but love Haskell and cheer him on. His neurotic uncertainty over his identity immediately won me over. We read ofthe misery and frustration of being a person who is different. Haskell is coming-of-age in the middle of the sexual revolution and could very well have a career as an actor but he sees this as an inconvenience. He is filled with anger and has to deal with adolescence, protests against Vietnam and the Hippie revolution going on around him. He finds high school to be a living hell where he is constantly made fun of. It doesn’t help that he learns that was named after a Los Angeles freeway off ramp and his mother forces change on him.Being reassured by a fake psychic after he learns that his mother is sending him to live with his aunt, he begins to really live.

His gay sexuality made everything even more difficult. Haskell spends a lot of time trying to “drive the homo out of” and wonders if he is a freak. He always tries to please those around him even his absentee father, a producer of low-quality movies that rip off others’ work and make big bucks. Haskell’s own Hollywood connections bring him to the offer of a starring role as Demetrius Kapadopolus. His uncle Ted tries to help Haskell navigate both public high school after private school and into California after New York. However whatever good intentions his uncle has, his advice is lame and Haskell feels trapped. Once this is understood, Haskell prepares himself for whatever might lay in front of him as he moves forward, especially after his mother is no longer in his life.

The novel has the themes of coming of age, sexuality. identity and being gay in the 1960s when homophobia was rampant.  The prose is filled with wit and sensitivity as is Haskell.  We get both the light and dark side of Haskell’s conflicts. Here is a look at the 60s and the consequences of social conflicts facing young gay people as well as family conflicts and career priorities.

The story is relevant to today’s world. The gay community has come a long way since the 60’s, but there are still struggles to be faced and some of them are the same that Haskell faced.  There were times that I felt that I actually knew Haskell since I came-out the same time as he did.

The book is filled with emotion and it is the physical and emotional highs and lows that will shape Haskell just as much as his external environment does. Haskell had to grow up too quickly and was in danger of losing himself in the process. I am anxious to see what else writer Gary Siegel has in store for us.

“All About the Benjamins” by Zev Good— A Modern Family Beautifully Depicted

Good, Zev. “All About The Benjamins”, Independently Published, 2019.

A Modern Family Beautifully Depicted

Amos Lassen

Susan Benjamin died a year ago from cancer and her family still has not been able to deal with her death. As they try, family secrets begin to emerge. Amy, her daughter, is dealing with divorce and struggling to raise her teenaged son yet she does not want to be controlling like her own mother had been. Susan’s son, Adam, is his thirties and gay and moving through a series of unrewarding jobs and relationships which are counter to the love and stability he seeks.

Joel, Susan’s husband and father of Amy and Adam, is fifty-eight and  is about to come out as a gay man. This is the focus of the novel and this is what makes the Benjamins face the truths about themselves and the family—- Joel, their father, is gay and was unfaithful to their mother through thirty-eight years of marriage. In “All About the Benjamins”, writer Zev Good gives us a darkly comic, yet tender story about family and identity.

Zev Good offers a nuanced, tender, and often darkly comic view into loss, identity, and the unbreakable bonds of family. I am stunned by the beauty of this book both plot and prose wise. Good knows family dynamics and shares them along with nuance and enlightenment in this wonderful read.

Most families have secrets but few know how to write about them in ways that pull us in. We often relegate these secret holders to the margins and if their secret is not instrumental to the plot, we forget about them. Here the secret takes center stage and everyone feels its results. Instead of remining secrets, they become ways of survival that explain the nature of family.

As one who has experienced it, I can tell you that coming-out is both a terrifying and freeing experience. Good relates Joel’s coming-out and it brought tears to my eyes as I read. First, we read of Joel’s memory of when he realized his sexuality and how it took him thirty-plus years to come-out. He had no idea how to do so; he would spend time rehearsing what he would say and then not to do so and become despondent. Others had successfully done so— Joel couldn’t understand why he was having such a hard time with it. At fifty-eight years old, he was not getting any younger and it was time. When he finally felt sure of himself, he called Amy.

The characters are beautifully drawn with real personalities and the detail of the plot is brilliant as is the prose. This is an honest portrayal of a modern family with all of its complex relationships and intricacies. We read of  successes, how the family members see and feel about each other each other and what holds them together. We are with them as they deal with their new reality and as they come together after tragedy and a new surprise. Conflicts are resolved beautifully and Zev Good has a new fan. I am looking forward to reading his book of short stories and anxiously await anything new he writes.

“There Goes Sunday School” by Alexander C. Eberhart— Mike and the Church

Eberhart, Alexander C. “There Goes Sunday School”, Seven Sisters Publishing, 2018.

Mike and the Church

Amos Lassen

When Mike Hernandez was sixteen-years-old, it was quite clear that it was not okay to be gay. He was a member of a family whose life was intimately connected to his parents’ church. This church was led by an intolerant pastor who was very vocal with his hatred and so the only safe place for Mike was in the closet. He only came out for his art and for occasional gay sessions. He channeled his art into racy drawings that shared the closet with him. He kept them in a sketchbook that he took with him everywhere he went.

One day, that sketchbook disappeared at Sunday school and Mike feared the worst— he would be outed and considered a pariah and condemned by all. But then the Chris, the son of the Pastor Myers “adopted” Mike who did not understand why. Then during a face-to-face meeting with Chris, Mike, rather than being punched as expected, received a kiss and everything changed. Their friendship blossomed  and they began to question faith  and Mike realized that he might be forced to choose between the life he’s always lived and a chance at the love he never thought he would have.

Reading this, we become more and more aware of how gay kids, still today, face bigotry and hatred, “from the “Christian” community for being who they are and who they love, and how it affects their mental well-being.”

Mike  wonderfully shares the Christian hypocrisy in his meeting with his Christian school principal when he tells him, “I’m referring to the very same book that condemns homosexuality in the Bible. They go on to say a whole lot of things are ‘abominations’ including, eating shellfish, wearing jewelry, cutting your hair, getting a tattoo, and harvesting honey. Why is this one thing different?”

This is a relevant story about first real love between two boys in a conservative Christian community. For years, Mike had not been able to be himself and to openly accept his sexuality. As a teen, he was amid violent sermons of damnation and questions about his faith. While this is a coming-out story, it is also an exploration of how faith influences self-acceptance, relationships and acceptance by others. Even though this is fiction, it honestly represents real teens who live under the dangerous influence of an unforgiving church.

I really enjoyed the wonderful prose but I would have liked more careful editing. The characters of Mike and Chris are wonderfully drawn. Most of us remember, all to well, how we dealt with our feelings during our first love affair and the way Mike and Chris face their feelings for each other is completely relatable. “They joke around with each other, sneak the occasional drink or joint with friends, they have adventures where they explore new places and people watch.”

Chris is delightful and full of heart and he just wants to be able to love and accept who he is. This is nearly impossible for him because of his father’s profession but he is sure about what he wants for himself and he makes that happen. Mike, on the other hand, is a more difficult character who really needs a hug. He is scared and lost until he and Chris get together.

This is not a short book coming in at 400 pages but those pages are rich in ideas and themes and covers the difficult topics of identity, religion, sexuality, love and fear.  There are always theological questions when a youngster comes out as gay and while things are changing, the questions remain.  Many religions are now accepting of the LGBTQ community. What we really see here is that it is people who are haters and not institutions. The same haters influence those institutions yet we have all been taught, regardless of religion or belief, that God is love. Here Christian love is victorious and writer Alexander Eberhart shows us where modern Conservative Christianity’s mistakes are not used as a means to ignore the idea that God is love.

“The Geography of Pluto” by Christopher DiRaddo— Dealing with Certainty

DiRaddo, Christopher. “The Geography of Pluto” , Cormorant Books, 2014

Dealing With Certainty

Amos Lassen

Will Ambrose is a twenty-eight-year-old teacher living in Montreal. He has spent the last few months recovering from a breakup with his first serious boyfriend, Max. While he is searching for companionship, he hasn’t truly moved on. Katherine, his mother, is one of the few people (if not the only one) who loves him unconditionally but she is in recovery from colon cancer and she is haunted by the possibility of relapse. Will has experienced heartbreak and must come to terms with the rule of impermanence and needs to find hope and solace in the e certainty of change.

Writer Christopher DiRaddo captures life through his story of a young man’s day-to-day struggle with uncertainty in gorgeous prose. He writes about love—love of family, romantic love, love of friends, love of place, and self-love.

Will Ambrose faces two relationship challenges: the need to get over Max and the desire to take his relationship with his single mother deeper beyond ‘surface’ matters. The novel moves back and forth in time and we learn about Will’s friendship with Angie, his experience of coming out as a gay man and discerning the boundaries between sex, love, and various states in-between. There is another main character— the city of Montreal, which is gorgeously depicted throughout with vivid descriptions of its climate, gay village, and geography.

We read of love at its best, boldest and widest. It’s about parental love (by and for), and about the love for and by partners (past, present and future). It also touches on love within friendship – between those few friends who are there, unconditionally, when they are really needed. Love can be sad, particularly when it’s lost, declined or taken from us and this novel explores and details love.

 

“The Subtweet” byVivek Shraya— Failing in Friendship

Shraya, Vivek.”The Subtweet”, ECW, 2020.

Falling in Friendship

Amos Lassen

Vivek Shraya’s “The Subtweet” examines “making art in the modern era, a love letter to brown women, an authentic glimpse into the music industry, and a nuanced exploration of the promise and peril of being seen.”

We seldom think about the concept of falling into friendship whereas falling in love is always a good topic for conversation. When Neela Devaki’s song is covered by internet-famous artist Rukmini, the two musicians meet and a transformative friendship begins.

As Rukmini’s star rises and Neela’s just sits, jealousy and self-doubt creep in. It just took a single tweet for their friendship  to implode, destroy a career. The two women find themselves at the center of an internet war.

We  look at life online life and see that it becomes part of the lives of its complex characters that spend time using the Internet. This is a deeply moving tale about the relationships between artists and friends. 

Shraya looks at the interrogation of art, race, friendship, social media, and the music industry with characters who are  self-destructive and filled with self-doubt. We see how internet fame, race, and commerce influence the way we create art in the digital age. We are left with

“questions about race and power dynamics within culture, the efficacy/validity of cancel or call out culture, how we communicate, brown female friendships and more.”  We read of the foolishness and pressure of social media and art.

“Starling Days” by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan— A Portrait of Mental Illness

Buchanan, Rowan Hisayo. “Starllng Days: A Novel”, The Overlook Press, 2020.

A Portrait of Mental Illness

Amos Lassen

On their first date, Mina told Oscar that she was bisexual, vegetarian, and on medication. He married her anyhow knowing that there was a  challenge to be met. She had low days but she managed. But now, she is not doing too good. Mina is standing on the George Washington Bridge late at night, staring over the edge, when a patrol car drives up. She tries to convince the policeman she’s not about to jump, but he doesn’t believe her. Oscar is called to pick her up. He then arranges a move to London where Mina can learn about the sadness she feels. While there, Mina tries to deal with her mental problems by making lists of women who managed to survive mental illness.

Mina believes that the only thing that makes her happy are enamel coffee cups. She finds happiness in Phoebe and their friendship and feelings for each other grew until Mina’s love for Oscar is tested.

The themes of art, mental illness, and having one’s loyalties split across countries and cultures are used to tell the story. Oscar and Mina have been together for over a decade, but their marriage got off to a bad start about six months ago on their wedding night.  Mina took an overdose and Oscar was lucky to find her in time. Mina is an adjunct professor and Classics tutor and will use the time in London as a period of research on her monograph about the rare women who survive in Greek and Roman myth. Oscar’s work for his father’s Japanese import company takes him back to New York leaving Mina free to pursue her fascination with Phoebe, the sister of Oscar’s childhood friend.

Both Oscar and Mina come from Asian ancestry and are part of complicated, dysfunctional family histories. For Oscar, his father’s health scare is a wake-up call, reminding him that everything he has taken for granted is quickly being lost, and Mina’s uncertain mental and reproductive health force him to face the fact that they might never have children. We feel sympathy for them. We get a realistic picture of marriage with readjusting expectations for a relationship the longer a couple is together, and the family situation is inevitably going to have an impact on how one sees the future.

Writer Buchanan sees depression saps life and drives loved ones to despair.  The novel is set in New York and London as Oscar seeks ways to alleviate Mina’s unhappiness, but she has struggled for many years and there is no simple answer. He becomes obsessive over her whereabouts and worries when she is left alone; she comes off her medication to “learn the floor plan of [her] sadness”. But he leaves her alone in London to deal with her problems.

This is not a happy read yet it contains beautiful prose and I became totally absorbed in it. This nuanced portrait of a woman’s struggle for self-determination amid mental illness is gripping.

“What Happens After” by Dennis Abrams— Sneaking Out

Abrams, Dennis. “What Happens After”, Harmony Ink, 2020.

Sneaking Out

Amos Lassen

Dennis Abrams, “What Happens Next” is a heartbreaking novel about Collin and his best friend, Nate, two high school juniors in suburban Houston. The powers that be are politically and culturally conservative and this makes coming-out a very difficult act. One night they decided to sneak out and went to a gay club in Houston. They wanted to see other gay people and dance and hopefully meet others like them.

But then a barrage of shots rang out in the bar and while Collin survives, Nate did not. Now Collin has to deal with the loss of his best friend as well as survivor’s guilt, his own painful wounds and being outed nationally. It seems impossible to be able to finish his senior year of high school and his life will never be the same.

I was not expecting this to be such a dark read yet I was drawn into the story on the first page yet I found tears in my eyes all the way through the story.
This is a story is about hurt, grief, guilt and reliving a terrible event again and again. I cannot even imagine how Collin was able to deal with it all. He feels guilty for the death of Nate and yet has to deal with having been outed because he was a survivor. The prose is beautiful and Dennis Abrams’ use of short sentences is very effective.

“The Ungodly Hour” by Laury Egan— Amid Romance a Killer Comes

Egan, Laury. “The Ungodly Hour”,  Interlude Press, 2020.

Amid Romance a Killer Comes

Amos Lassen

Dana Fox, a New York photographer, is leading a weeklong photography workshop on Mykonos. If you have ever been to the island, you will quickly understand why is so  entranced by the brilliant light of Mykonos. The dark beauty of Cybele Karabélias, a local policewoman enchants her as well. However, what began as a wonderful vacation is upended when several of gruesome murders rock the town. Dana doesn’t pay attention to the possible dangers and continues to photograph, not realizing that the killer is moving closer to her as he seeks closure and the evidence that is unknowingly in Dana’s possession.

Dana is sure who she is sexually but Cybele who accepted a job on the local police department because she wanted to learn more about her sexuality. Mykonos has always been a gay destination so it seems that it is a perfect place for introspection and sexual decision making. One evening, Dana and Cybele see each other in a bar but it ended there or so it seemed.

However, the next day Dana’s apartment was broken into and when she calls the police, Cybele the following day, her apartment gets broken into and trashed and guess who visits when she calls the police Cybele answers.

At the same time Dana is visiting Mykonos, a gay man is murdered, a news reported is killed, a group of Christian-anti-gay-protesters is on the island and one of Dana’s student is dealing with an abusive boyfriend. There is a lot going on and we are left to wonder why her apartment was broken into.

After the phone call to the police, Dana and Cybele get along beautifully but we feel the tension on Mykonos. The plot keeps us reading as we try to tie everything together. While this is a mystery/thriller read, there is also a lot of romance here.

It seems that the murders have something to do with Dana’s photography workshop and it is possible that among Dana’s photos is one of the killer. When we finally learn who the murderer is, we see his reasons. It is interesting also that there is such homophobia in a place where gays are regular visitors and even residents. I do not want to say anymore about the plot because to do so would spoil the mystery. I prefer that you enjoy the read as much as I did. In fact, I bet it is that much better with a second read which I plan to do soon.

“Stay and Fight: A Novel” by Madeline fifth— Independence and Protest

Ffitch, Madeline. “Stay and Fight: A Novel”,  Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 2019.

Independence and Protest

Amos Lassen

Madeline ffitch’s “Stay and Fight: A Novel” is a tribute to independence and a protest against the materialism in which we live today. We meet Helen who comes to Appalachian Ohio full of love and her boyfriend’s ideas for living off the land. However, with winter coming, he calls it quits. Rudy, Helen’s “government-questioning, wisdom-spouting, seasonal-affective-disordered boss” and a neighbor couple, Karen and Lily, come to help and Helen makes it to spring. The neighbors are awaiting the arrival of their first child, a boy, which means their time at the Women’s Land Trust must end.

Helen invites the new family to move in with her and they split the work and the food, build a house, and build a sustaining for years. Then young Perley decides he wants to go to school and Rudy sets up a fruit-tree nursery on the pipeline easement edging their land. With that, the outside world then comes into their makeshift family.

The part of Ohio Set is known for its independent spirit and what occurs in the novel changes what it means to be a family, to live well, to work in nature and to make deals with the system. This is a protest novel that challenges how we think about effective action and it is a family novel that refuses to conform to the traditional definition of how we define the word and concept of family. We are challenged to reimagine Appalachia and the America that we think we know and gives us a new understanding of what it means to love and to be free.

Winter in Appalachian Ohio is rough and demands adequate preparation. For Helen, this meant bringing her recently displaced neighbors and their son to help create a homestead with her on 20 acres of land. By the time Perley says that he wants to leave their isolated existence to go to school, we have a different picture of this way of life with all of its problems and dangers— “sleeping with black rat snakes, minding the “humanure” pile, and foraging for dinner when the daily game of “survival dice” doesn’t win a trip to the grocery store.” When an innocent accident attracts the attention of Social Services, the family’s world faces change. Madeline ffitch’s takes us from family drama to a political one that threatens their way of life. The characterizations of the family, especially Perley, who is bonded to each member gives the motivation behind the  title of the book. This is celebration of family and what freedom means.

This book is filled with quick verbal exchanges banter and complicated, unforgettable characters. Here is a queer feminist pioneer novel and the story of a different America. It looks at central, tender, and violent conflicts of our time as we see through the family’s sadness and humor. The prose is fresh and evocative. Personalities are revealed through the eyes of others. Yet, everyone is an unreliable narrator towards their own life; they each see themselves as completely differently to how the other characters saw them making this an original way to tell a story. Everyone has the best intentions but nobody is totally sympathetic. It is up to us to decide how to see the characters thus involving us in what we read.”

“Poet, Prophet, Fox: The Tale of Sinnach the Seer” by M.Z. McDonnell— A Queer “Mytho-history” of Ancient Ireland

McDonnell, M.Z. “Poet, Prophet, Fox: The Tale of Sinnach the Seer”, Moose Maple Press, 2019)’.

A Queer “Mytho-history” of Ancient Ireland

Amos Lassen

“Long before history began, when Ireland was ruled by poets and tribal chieftains, the prophet Sinnach was the most powerful druid in the ancient province of Mumu. But before he was a prophet, before he was a poet, he was a just boy… a boy believed to be a girl.”

Unable to suppress his true nature, Sinnach could not suppress who he really was and  fled persecution by seeking refuge in the wilderness. Because of his talents, his unique nature and his oath to the goddess Ériu, Sinnach found his place in a world that was then filled with poetry, magic, and combat.

In trying to attain power, there are consequences for Sinnach who becomes enmeshed in the dangerous affairs of both men and Síd, the Faerie Folk. His travels into the Otherworld are dangerous and he has to deal with the conflicting passions of love, and the return of an old enemy who threatens to disclose his identity endangering him and the peace between the tribes, and peace between the worlds.

Writer McDonnell was inspired by the great mythological epics of ancient Ireland and brings us a new myth with very old truths “about who we were, who we are, and who we might become.” This is a fun read that also gives us a lot to think about especially in the way it looks at the experience of transgender people. Sinnach is a relatable character making this a relevant read and great historical fantasy. I was pulled in on the first page.